Expert Opinions And The Search For Knowledge Philosophy
Knowledge is the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association.Knowledge can be classified into facts and opinions. Facts are disputable, as there is a right and a wrong answer. Opinions on the other hand, can't be wrong as everyone is entitled to having an opinion. However, some opinions are better than others. Also, some opinions may lead to knowledge, while others would lead you astray. Hence, it is important to distinguish between the two.
An expert is someone widely recognized as a reliable source of knowledge or skill whose judgment is accorded authority and status by the public. Hence, the opinions of experts must be better than those of the common people. That is because experts have dedicated their life to study in a particular field, so that they know a lot of things in that specific field. But should we blindly believe everything that experts say?
Consider the following example. In 1970, American Fashion Expert Rudi Gernreitch predicted, " By 2000, women will wear pants, men will wear skirts, both sexes will go bare-chested (Weather permitting) and clothes will be see-through."
Also, visualize the following situation, which you've probably been in a million times. You have fractured your hand. You have your soccer finals day after tomorrow. Your hand is badly injured, but this is probably the biggest game of your life. The doctor has advised you to remain at home to nurse your injured arm. Overcome by the importance of the game, you decide that the emotion has overcome your logic and you decide to play. Within 5 minutes, you fall down and your hand gets worse and you are hospitalized.
In the first example, we can clearly see that the prediction by the fashion expert is false. However, in the second example, we find that had we listened to the doctor's, i.e. the expert's opinion, we would have been healed quicker. Hence, it is clear that some opinions (most, I'd say) are correct while some aren't. So, how do we know which ones to believe?
When we compare opinions, there will always be a better opinion and a not-that-great one. How do we know which is which? The second example clearly showed that the opinion of the expert was better. This was because his opinion was based on reason and experience, in comparison with emotion.
In the natural sciences, scientists create a hypothesis before performing an experiment. This 'hypothesis' is nothing but their opinion of what they would expect to happen. The hypothesis is usually correct as they specialize in the field and thus, I'd say that most of their opinions are correct.
For example, if you give sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid to a chemist and to a lame man, the chemist would expect sodium chloride to form when reacted, while the lame man would be clueless and would probably predict an explosion. We know that the chemist's hypothesis is the correct one.
Once, the experiment has been performed, the hypothesis turns into knowledge. Again, one would term it impossible to gain knowledge in the natural sciences, without forming a hypothesis first. Hence, the opinions of experts play a crucial role in the search for knowledge in the natural sciences.
Now, if the chemist were to spread his "newly acquired" knowledge, many people would believe it, while some wouldn't. This is because some people need evidence to believe it. In other words, they need to experience it to believe it. However, it wouldn't be possible for everyone to perform experiments, especially if they require high cost inputs. Hence, we need to segregate the good opinion from the bad. The best approach for this would be to not blindly accept it, as everyone makes mistakes, and experts' opinions may be biased at times. Importantly, it all comes down to a matter of trust and opinion. We need to apply our own personal opinions and from a first-person view, we need to segregate between opinions that have potential to lead to knowledge and opinions that may lead you astray. Rather than on the words, the focus should be on the evidence provided in support of the opinion.
In the above example, the chemist would state that Sodium Hydroxide is a base, while hydrochloric acid is an acid, arguing that we would expect the formation of a salt.
However, what do experts really know about art? Arts consist more of opinions than of facts. When it comes to a simple question of "What is good art?", How do we differentiate between the right and wrong opinion? Which opinion is better? In the Arts, opinions of experts can be easily compared with the opinions of non-experts, as what may be true for one, may not be true for another. Opinions are bound to clash. This is because "Beauty is in the eyes of the Beholder". People tend to appreciate art, based on the emotions that they experience on viewing the art, rather than judging it using standards.
However, does this mean that we should ignore other opinions and only listen to our personal opinion? The fact that there are art critics seems to suggest that there are some opinions that are worth listening to. Also, we find that art critics almost always agree on a particular issue, indicating to us that there may be standards of judgment. An examination of balance, colour and tone in paintings, or of harmony and structure in music suggests to us that there, indeed, are standards of judgment.
When an art critic comments on a piece of art, it is an opinion of what the critic feels or judges using standards that he finds important. There may be many other critics with the same views, and some with contrasting views. It is, in contrast with the natural sciences, where experts usually come up with the same hypothesis. This is because art is not a tangible product, rather a state of mind. The opinions of experts in art are not facts and even if they justify their opinions, they remain opinions. Hence, the opinions of experts in arts are influential, but of limited importance.
For example, you have seen the Mona Lisa for the 1st time. At first, we look at the painting and say that it is nothing special and only depicts a lady. However, an art critic may come and start explaining all the minute details that makes the Mona Lisa special in an attempt to change our opinion into one of awe. Regardless of what he says, all we see is a painting of a woman. Hence, beauty is hard to convey to a common man.
In the natural sciences, the opinions of experts play a crucial role in the acquisition of knowledge and we can argue that it would be almost improbable for a common man to acquire knowledge in the natural science, which heavily uses reason, logic and experience. However, in the arts, The opinions of experts play a limited role as their opinions are not the law and it would be hard to use reason and logic to change the opinion of a common man, whose opinion is mainly based on how he perceives the piece of art and the emotion that is aroused because of it.
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